The Dream of Shahrazad

Even revolutions begin with a story

Produced by Francois Verster, Neil Brandt and Shameela Seedat | Directed by Francois Verster

The start of the Arab Spring was a momentous global event, raising great hopes for anyone interested in the forward march of humanity. Two years later, the meaning or consequences of these events are still not clear, and optimism has become clouded by civil war, violence and further repression.

This feature-length documentary locates political expression before, during and after the Egyptian revolution – and also within recent times in Turkey and Lebanon – within a broader historical and cultural framework; that of storytelling and music. More specifically, it looks at the legacy of the famous collection of stories, The 1,001 (or “Arabian”) Nights.

Weaving together a web of music, politics and storytelling, the film follows a series of unforgettable characters, all of whom draw their inspiration from The Nights and whom, like Shahrazad – the storytelling princess in the Nights who saves lives by telling stories – puts creativity to new political use.

A young female Turkish violinist travels to Istanbul, where a charismatic conductor uses Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade suite as a tool for political education, leading up to a final performance at Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. A young Lebanese woman makes peace with her past by learning the art of storytelling in Egypt. An older visual artist who is obsessed with The Nights finds his “dream of Shahrazad” manifesting through the appearance of a beautiful young storyteller. Members of a Cairo theatre troupe meet with the mothers of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution and turn their testimonies into new storytelling performances.

The Dream of Shahrazad is a richly kaleidoscopic film – at once observational documentary, concert film, political essay and visual translation of an ever-popular symphonic and literary classic. It is a documentary homage to The Nights, to the Scheherezade suite, and to the role of a rich historical and creative legacy within huge current political change.


Winner Sunny Side of the Doc: Best Documentary in Progress award 2012